Friday, August 31, 2012

For the Love of Mora...Mulberries

I assume some of the people who read this blog think about the Swedish knife when somebody says, “Mora.”  But in Spanish the word mora means mulberry.  In fact, the family name the various mulberries fall within is known as Moraceae.  Selfbow makers are familiar with another species in this family called Osage orange, Maclura pomifera.  Texas has two native species of mulberry, Texas mulberry (Morus microphylla) found in Central and West Texas into the Panhandle and hopscotching within islands of vegetation as far west as Arizona.  Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) extends from about Val Verde County in the southwestern part of the state over towards Corpus Christi along the Gulf Coast and north in a sweeping curve through the Dallas-Fort Worth area into Oklahoma then Kansas and as far north as southern Michigan and Minnesota and throughout the South and much of the Eastern Seaboard.  I’ve got a link called U.S. Tree Species Range Maps that will take you to the distribution maps of all the major hardwoods in The United States.  Deep South Texas has an introduced species of mulberry called, White Mulberry (Morus alba) that came from AsiaThose of you who have never indulged in a snack of mulberries have missed out.  As a kid we had a mulberry tree growing next to the driveway and I and the mockingbirds kept the tree in a constant state of attack.  The ripe blue-black mulberries were the sweetest but now and then it was nice to indulge in the bitter red stage of berries a few days before full ripening.  My mom was forever warning me about not overdoing the mulberries.  Guess I wasn’t very obedient.  But the way I figured it I was actually doing everybody a favor.  Mulberries falling onto a paved driveway will make a mess staining not only the concrete but when they stick to your shoes you’ll take the purplish dye into your house and stain the floor.  So you see I was actually a hero and not some disobedient kid.  I’ve eaten mulberry pie, mulberry muffins and mulberry jam.  Mulberries sprinkled on vanilla ice cream are shamelessly bueno.

Mulberry wood has been used for furniture, selfbows, knife handles, and other assorted wooden things like railroad crossties, fence posts and even boats.  The bark which can be pounded into a fiber was used to make cloth by pre-Columbian cultures.  I saw a wooden flute made from a mulberry branch and it was gorgeous.  Mulberry trees have been transplanted all over the world and are easy to propagate.

My experience with mulberry selfbows is limited.  I’ve made a few but only when I could find a branch that was projecting over a ranch road and was straight enough to use.  I’m not keen on whacking down an entire tree so that I can make a bow.  Somehow that seems a bit overboard.  Besides, it’s not as if we haven’t destroyed enough nature already.

Back in the days when people mailed letters (what they call “hardcopies” now) I used a mulberry handled letter opener that I made.  I keep it in a drawer and every once in a while look at it just to admire the wood.

Mulberries can turn into beautiful shade trees and if you’re a birder they’ll bring in birds by the dozens come berry time.  In the interim they provide ample nesting and roosting sites.  Mulberry trees are available in the spring for planting.  I’ve even seen them for sale at places like Walmart.  They’re relatively fast growing.  Plant a mulberry tree and you’ll have wonderful shade and lots of birds to watch.  Just don’t plant them too close to your driveway or patio unless you’ve got a super-hero-kid around to (in consortium with the birds) eat the harvest and spare the concrete.

I made this letter opener a few years ago using a piece of saw blade and a small branch of mulberry.